Was Mt. Sinai a volcano? (Ex. 19-20)


(Kathleen) #1

Hi everyone!
@lauragrace73 and I were in a Bible study last night, where we were discussing Deuteronomy 5 with a larger group. In that passage, Moses recalls going up Mt. Sinai to receive the Law, and he emphasises how ‘the LORD spoke to them face-to-face out of the fire on the mountain’. It was then very keenly brought up that, if you read that account in Exodus 19, that it sounds awfully like these people are standing near an active volcano…which would, presumably, be something they’d never seen before. Therefore, how do we know that this wasn’t just a story of an ancient people coming to grips with something outside of their frame of reference?

So fascinating! Sadly, it was nearer to the end of our time, so we didn’t get to get into it in depth, but I did a little google search this morning and found this interesting piece…

I appreciated Glen Fritz’s (the author’s) noting of…

The volcanic theories reviewed above all seem to ignore the potentially noxious environments associated with active volcanoes…The tephra fallout from volcanic plumes is very hazardous, easily deadly to man, animals, and vegetation.

A review of the biblical human interaction with Mount Sinai is needed to highlight the potential problem. Of note is the protracted human activity within the mountain and the fact that Moses spent more than 80 days in its heights…Moses made about five trips up the mountain. On one excursion, he was accompanied by over seventy people, who experienced benign conditions under which they could tarry, and eat and drink.

There was also this piece from 2003, introducing people to the work of a Cambridge physicist named Colin Humphreys. Has anyone read him?

I’m curious about people’s thoughts! How do we bring together appearances (that is, seemingly ‘naturalistic’ explanations) with the stories of our faith?


(SeanO) #2

@KMac I like the points you mentioned about Moses spending so long on the mountain and the elders ascending it. The only thing I would add is that if we follow the story of God’s appearances - at the burning bush, in the wilderness as a pillar of fire / smoke, at Sinai and at Horeb with Elijah - it appears that this is not a natural phenomena. For example, unless it was a mobile volcano the pillar of fire in the wilderness was certainly a manifestation of God’s presence :slight_smile:

I don’t think that these appearances can be reduced to naturalistic explanations. It reminds me of people trying to explain away the parting of the Red Sea by pointing out that it can mean ‘sea of reeds’ or trying to reduce the Exodus miracles to natural phenomena. If we take the Scriptures seriously, I do not think they can be reduced to naturalistic explanations. I think these are attempts by people who have already chosen God does not exist to explain why a nomadic people would come up with stories of this nature and how such a large group of nomads could be convinced of their veracity.

Moses at Mt. Horeb - Burning Bush

Exodus 3:1-3 - Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

Pillar of Fire and Pillar of Cloud

Exodus 13:21 - By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.

Moses at Horeb

Exodus 19:9 - The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.”… On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast.Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.

Elijah at Mt. Horeb

I Kings 19:11-13 - The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.


(Laura Prime) #3

Thanks @SeanO, helpful material to think about after reading some of the same articles @KMac referred to!